Some thoughts on Ramesside remains on the left riverbank at Ginis and Kosha

As recently outlined by Rennan Lemos, a remarkable tomb of Ramesside date was found by Vila in Ginis West. We identified this monument during our survey in 2019 and it clearly once had a tumulus superstructure; the descent to the rock-cut chambers is still visible. Some broken pottery as well as bone fragments are scattered around the superstructure, but otherwise this structure is isolated and cannot be associated with burial monuments (apart from a few Christian tombs close by).

Figure 1: Site 3-P-50 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

A look at the distribution map of New Kingdom sites in our MUAFS concession (see Budka 2020, 65, fig. 14) is useful for a tentative contextualisation of the tomb which, among others, yielded shabtis of the lady of the house, Isis (Vila 1977, 151). The New Kingdom sites are clustered within the southwestern part of the research area, thus close to the urban sites Amara West and Sai Island. The role of these administrative centres Amara West and Sai Island needs to be considered when looking at the ‘periphery’ (cf. Spencer 2019; see also Stevens and Garnett 2017) and might have influenced the pattern of site distribution. The latter, however, is still preliminary as I pointed out in a earlier post.

Figure 2: Distribution of New Kingdom sites in the MUAFS concession including 3-P-50, 2-T-58 and 3-P-15 (see Budka 2020, fig. 14).

The closest possible New Kingdom site located in the neighbourhood of 3-P-50 is 2-T-58. This site is a small cemetery of several tumuli which can be attributed to the Late New Kingdom and/or the Pre-Napatan period. Unfortunately, 2-T-58 was already very much destroyed and plundered in the 1970s. There is little hope that more information than gathered by Vila can be gained from these tombs (Vila 1977, 119-122, figs. 53-54).

Figure 3: One of the looted tombs of site 2-T-58 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

Vila excavated one of the tombs and found the remains of four burials, of funerary beds, bodily adornment like beads and amulets and some ceramic vessels which seem to date to the late Ramesside period and the Pre-Napatan phase, finding close parallels at Amara West (Binder 2014, passim) and also at Hillat el-Arab (Vincetelli 2006, passim). A post-New Kingdom date is maybe the most likely for this excavated tumulus and its interments.

Especially interesting and most probably contemporaneous to the isolated tomb 3-P-50 is site 3-P-15 in Kosha West which is part of a cluster formed by three settlement sites (3-P-15, 3-P-16 and 3-P-17). 

This habitation site on a mound of c. 55-100m shows a surface covered by schist blocks and sherds. In the northeastern part, remains of mud bricks are visible. The surface ceramics we documented show a continuation from late Ramesside times well into the ninth and maybe even the eight century BCE, thus into the Napatan era.

Figure 4: Overview of site 3-P-15 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

A more precise dating and a concise characterisation will require excavations – but the site seems to have been in use during the time the cemeteries at Amara West flourished and 3-P-50 was built. As already pointed out by Michaela Binder, the best parallel for 3-P-50 is tomb G244 at Amara West (Binder 2014, Binder 2017, 599-606). The latter is the largest multi-chambered tomb at Amara West with a tumulus as superstructure and, like 3-P-50, also situated in what seems to have been an isolated position during the 20th Dynasty. Maybe these tombs, their architecture, their seemingly isolated location and rich equipment (which is an intriguing mixture of Egyptian- and Nubian-style material culture) point to common aspects of local elite communities in the Amara and Ginis regions we are still far away from understanding in detail.

Our planned excavations at 3-P-15 and especially the joint efforts of Rennan Lemos focusing on the mortuary evidence and Veronica Hinterhuber on the settlement remains will hopefully allow a closer assessment of the Ramesside period in the MUAFS concession and corresponding lived experiences in the near future.


Binder, M. 2014. Health and Diet in Upper Nubia through Climate and Political Change. A bioarchaeological investigation of health and living conditions at ancient Amara West between 1300 and 800 BC. Unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University.

Binder, M. 2017. The New Kingdom tombs at Amara West: Funerary perspectives on Nubian-Egyptian interactions, in: N. Spencer, A. Stevens, and M. Binder (eds), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven, 591-613.

Budka, J. 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: the 2020 season of the Munich Universit Attab to Ferka Survey Project, Sudan and Nubia 24, 57-71.

Spencer, N. 2019. Settlements of the Second Intermediate Period and New Kingdom, in D. Raue (ed), Handbook of ancient Nubia, vol. 1. Berlin, 433-464.

Stevens, A. and A. Garnett 2017. Surveying the pharaonic desert hinterland of Amara West, in: N. Spencer, A. Stevens, and M. Binder (eds), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven, 287-306.

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 5: Le district de Ginis, Est et Ouest. Paris.

Vincentelli, I. 2006. Hillat El-Arab. The Joint Sudanese-Italian Expedition in the Napatan Region, Sudan. Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication 15. British Archaeological Reports International Series 1570. Oxford.

A Remarkable New Kingdom Tomb at Ginis West

Most of the available burial evidence in New Kingdom Nubia come from large cemeteries associated with temple-towns. Evidence from the hinterland of colonial towns or ‘peripheral’ areas such as the Batn al-Hajar are usually discontinuous and pose various challenges to interpretation (figure 1). Edwards recently raised discussion on the role of isolated tombs in such areas. According to him, mortuary evidence from such locations, in contrast with evidence from formal cemeteries, “should not narrow our perspectives, to the exclusion from our narratives of the vast majority of the population who were buried otherwise” (Edwards 2020: 396).

Figure 1: different physiographic zones along the Middle Nile. Wikimedia Commons.

Ginis West is located north of Amara West, on the way to the Batn al-Hajar. In our concession area, evidence for formal cemeteries associated with established settlements is scarce, although continuing research and excavations will likely shed more light on this topic. In the New Kingdom, the whole area between Amara West and Lower Nubia, comprising the north Abri-Delgo Reach and the Batn el-Hajar represents a gap in our knowledge of New Kingdom Nubia. Revisiting the evidence produced by various surveys in these areas is crucial for us to develop new comparative research, especially evidence produced by the Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia (ASSN, Edwards 2020), the Finnish Expedition to Sudanese Nubia (Donner 1998) and other projects working in the Batn el-Hajar; and, particularly for us working in the Attab-Ferka stretch of the Nile, Vila’s survey south of Dal cataract (Vila 1975-79).

In the Batn el-Hajar, the ASSN uncovered not only simple pit graves, characteristic of non-elite burial grounds, but also a few elaborate tombs. Those can be compared to tombs at main cemeteries throughout the Nile Valley, at least in terms of substructures (Edwards 2020; see Spence 2019). At Ginis West, Vila’s team excavated a remarkable New Kingdom tomb (site 3-P-50). Based on a first look at the material culture retrieved inside, I would say it was used especially in the later part of the New Kingdom. The tomb was cut at the intersection between the alluvial plain and bedrock, and a few supporting slabs were used to reinforce the four subterranean chambers, accessible through a descending passage (figure 2).

Figure 2: plan and section of tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West (Villa 1977: 146).

The tomb was heavily looted, with scattered bones found in the descending passage and chamber three. The tomb likely housed the burials of various contemporaneous individuals, as well as later burials. No superstructure has been detected, although Binder pointed out to later New Kingdom tombs combining Egyptian-style substructures with tumuli superstructures at Amara West, Ginis and Sesebi (Binder 2014: 45).

The material culture from tomb 3-P-50 suggest cultural affinities with both Egypt and Nubia. On the Egyptian side, there are figurative scarabs, pendants representing deities and animals, including a rare crocodile pendant, an equally rare wooden headrest, and two late 19th Dynasty shabtis of Isis, lady of the house (figure 3). Various types of beads were also excavated, including long beads and spacers, which are characteristic of elite cemeteries and monumental tombs in New Kingdom Nubia (Lemos 2020). However, various earrings made of shell and carnelian were also found (figure 4), which represent affinities with local styles, which were later exported to Egypt (Lemos 2020). The combination of Egyptian-style objects with stone/ivory/shell earrings and bangles is especially strong at Soleb (Schiff Giorgini 1971).

Figure 3: Egyptian-style objects retrieved inside tomb 3-P-50 (Vila 1977: 151).
Figure 4: Nubian-style earrings retrieved inside tomb 3-P-50 (Vila 1977: 151).

Tomb 3-P-50 did not belong to a formal cemetery as its material culture alone would suggest. Vila only identified two later (likely Christian) tombs in the vicinity of the site. What is a relatively elaborate tomb containing a large quantity of restricted items typical of large New Kingdom colonial cemeteries doing at Ginis West? There is still so much for us to understand about ‘peripheral’ zones in New Kingdom Nubia. Tombs like 3-P-50 at Ginis West and a few examples from the Batn el-Hajar allow us to think that, at least for some people, what we characterise as ‘peripheries’ were actually the centre of life and death experiences of colonisation in New Kingdom Nubia. My research for DiverseNile will hopefully shed light onto shifting conceptions and experiences of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’, which will allow us to rewrite historical narratives of Nubia in the New Kingdom based on local experiences instead of Egyptian ways of classifying history.


Binder, M. 2014. Health and Diet in Upper Nubia through Climate and Political Change. A bioarchaeological investigation of health and living conditions at ancient Amara West between 1300 and 800 BC. Unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University.

Donner, G. 1998. The Finnish Nubia Expedition to Sudanese Nubia, 1964–65. Helsinki: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy.

Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lemos, R. 2020. Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

Schiff Giorgini, M. 1971. Soleb II: Les Nécropoles. Firenze: Sansone.

Spence, K. 2019. New Kingdom Tombs in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue, 541–566. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Vila. A. 1975-79. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au sud de la Cataracte de Dal. Vols 1-11. Paris: CNRS.

Introducing the new DiverseNile Seminar Series 2021

One of the small advantages in the Covid-19 pandemic is that there was a boost of online formats of lectures, seminars and workshops around the world. I consider this especially important since prior to the pandemic, it was a real challenge and a financial issue to ensure the participation of colleagues from Egypt and Sudan, that is, from the countries who’s archaeological remains our discipline investigates. With online formats, the place of stay is almost unimportant, if a stable internet connection is available. Numerous events are already trying to find time slots that are compatible for several time zones around the world. This new form of internationality has enormous potential and the high number of participants in Egyptological events worldwide over the last few months shows that for many people this is an incredible added value – which will hopefully also continue after the pandemic.

Therefore, I am proud to introduce the new DiverseNile Online Seminar Series which will run via Zoom, starting in April. Participation is free but registration via email is mandatory. For composing the programme and the organisation of the seminars, I am very grateful to Rennan Lemos. He did an excellent job, inviting a number of highly distinguished colleagues working in Sudan whose contributions fit perfectly under the general topic of “Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa”.

Programme of the forthcoming DiverseNile Seminar Series 2021, starting in April!

I am very much looking forward to this new format discussing key issues of the DiverseNile project with an international audience and from various perspectives – fresh ideas are thus as good as guaranteed.

Designing the petrographic documentation for the ceramic samples of the DiverseNile project

Documentation is the bread and butter of archaeological research. Archaeologists are daily committed to documenting everything: sites formation processes, dwellings, funerary remains, and above all the various products of material culture.

Any method of documentation, from the most essential and traditional (i.e., technical drawing of archaeological strata and finds) to the most elaborated (i.e., image-based 3D-modelling of artefacts, human remains, and sites) constitutes a fundamental step toward archaeological reconstruction. Documentation mainly serves the archaeologist to record and understand the material remains, settlement and funerary features identified during the archaeological excavation and to leave a trace of it. Also, through documentation, a preliminary process of interpretation and critical reading of the data is carried out. Furthermore, the system we adopt to document and classify archaeological data is not unbiased, rather it already implies a methodological choice and a specific scholarly interpretative approach.

As responsible, within the Work Package 3 of the DiverseNile project, for the technological and compositional analyses of the ceramic materials, I want to outline the method I use for the petrographic classification of the ceramic samples which we are going to analyse from the new concession area in the Attab to Ferka region and from our reference collections (e.g., the AcrossBorders ceramic samples from Sai Island; the New Kingdom/Kerma-Dukki Gel pottery samples; see also D’Ercole and Sterba 2018).

Generally speaking, petrography, via optical microscopy (OM), is a well-established procedure employed to examine ceramic objects and identify the source of clay raw materials and tempers used to manufacture the vessels (Fig. 1). This technique allows answering to crucial archaeological questions on pottery provenance and technology.

Figure 1. Example of ceramic thin section illustrating some common features documented for petrographic analysis. Adapted from Smith 2008: 74, Fig. 6.1.

In Sudanese archaeology, the interest in provenance and technological studies on pottery started approx. 50 years ago. In 1972, Nordström, referring to the work of Anna Shepard (1956), produced a systematic publication on early Nubian ceramics from the region of Abka-Wadi Halfa and defined the term fabric meaning the set of the compositional and anthropogenic characteristics of the ceramic material that could be determined by microscopic observation and comprised both the composition of the groundmass (or clay matrix) and non-plastic inclusions plus the potter’s technological choices adopted to make the vessel.

For the study of the ceramic material of our DiverseNile project I have designed a specific petrographic layout within the Filemaker database of the ceramic samples (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Layout of the petrographic database designed for the DiverseNile project.

The petrographic layout includes information on the archaeological provenance and dating of the samples. It also correlates the micro fabric or petrographic group to the macroscopic evidence, that is the visual description, shape, function, and macro ware of the ceramic specimens. The consecutive entries inform on a) the groundmass or clay matrix of the sample (i.e., colour, homogeneity and optical activity); b) non-plastic inclusions (i.e., sorting, dominant grain size, maximum grain size, abundance, and mineral composition); c) plastic inclusions (i.e., clay pellets, argillaceous rock fragments etc.); d) porosity (i.e., voids abundance, type, dominant size, iso-orientation); e) organics (i.e., abundance, type, dominant size). The database also notifies on the firing regime of the ceramic sample (i.e., oxidised, reduced, reduced with narrow ox margins, dark core due to insufficient ox, oxidised to reduced). Finally, a graphic field incorporates the microscopic photos of the thin section taken under both cross-polarised (XPL) and plane polarised (PPL) light. Comments, possible comparison with other samples, and a link to the iNAA compositional groups are included as further relevant information.

The purpose of this database is to simplify the data entry of the petrographic evidence and to standardize it according to an easy-to-use, flexible, and consistent classificatory system that embraces the main information on the composition and technology of production of the ceramic data (see among others Quinn 2013).

At a subsequent step, this information will be intertwined with the results obtained from the other laboratory analyses and eventually with the archaeological data to provide a further analytical and interpretive tool for understanding the diversity and complexity of the material culture of the human groups living in the periphery of the Egyptian towns in Sudanese Nubia.


D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, J. H. 2018. From macro wares to micro fabrics and INAA compositional groups: the Pottery Corpus of the New Kingdom town on Sai Island (northern Sudan), 171–183, in: J. Budka and J. Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.

Nordström, H. – Å 1972. Neolithic and A-Group sites. Uppsala, Scandinavian University.

Quinn, P. S. 2013. Ceramic Petrography: The Interpretation of Archaeological Pottery & Related Artefacts in Thin Section. Oxford, Archaeopress.

Shepard, A. O. 1956. Ceramics for the Archaeologist. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Smith, M. S. 2008. Petrography, Chapter 6, 73-107, in: J. M. Herbert, T. E. Mc Reynold (eds.), Woodland Pottery Sourcing in the Carolina Sandhills. Research Report No. 29, Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Working on cultural diversity in Upper Nubia during the lockdown

These are challenging times – for everybody, for many groups more than others (just think of the heroes in hospitals, schools, kindergarten and supermarkets as well as many other places and the awful situation for everybody involved in gastronomy, tourism and culture). We as archaeologists are more or less well prepared for doing much of our work from home. Spending weeks and moths per year in the field, often stuck on an island somewhere, we are also used to a certain kind of isolation.

However, there are of course real problematic issues for us we are currently facing. First of all, of course going to the field in Sudan and Egypt – nothing that is possible at the moment and also planning our next season in the MUAFS concession is still extremely difficult because of the pandemic. Second, our teaching activities are restricted to online formats. Whereas this works without problems for lecture classes and seminars, our planned block seminar “Introduction to field archaeology” where we wanted to have various practical training for our participants would need to be completely revised as an online format. We have postponed it for now, hoping that it might be possible in March – I remain skeptical (or realistic?) since the extension of the lockdown in Munich is very likely, but let’s wait and see. Third, working at home and taking shifts in working in the office to secure isolation and limited risks for everybody is currently without alternative, but I miss having the complete team present and exchanging in a casual way.

Well – as archaeologists we are trained to be patient, and all will be better somewhen!

For now, I wanted to give a small update on our work progress. Everybody of the team is busy with several work tasks within the work packages – much efforts are currently spent by Giulia and Veronica on databases, by Jessica on enlarging our digital library and by Cajetan on various aspects of remote sensing. Rennan was busy with his PhD viva at Cambridge which he passed very successfully and now continues with collecting data useful to approach the mortuary archaeology of the MUAFS concession.

It was very silent from my side as PI and this with good reasons – it is the end of the teaching term, there’s a lot of administration keeping me busy and most importantly: I tried to finish a monograph about Tomb 26 on Sai Island in the last months. This process has taken quite some time and actually benefitted from the lockdown and that I was unable to leave Europe over the winter. This book is now almost ready and I could easy repeat what I had written in 2018 about the merits and flaws of preparing archaeological publications, especially about crazy working hours and panic attacks. And about the feeling of being overwhelmed when you know exactly that the really important things in life are neglected but you can’t help it – partner, family, friends and pets suffer and need to be very patient and supportive (or bribed in the case of animals). Friends and family got used to my slightly bizarre answers on the phone “yes, all is fine, I am still in my tomb, can we speak later?” and for this I am very grateful! Interestingly, there was not much difference between the last months in lockdown and the final book preparation period back in 2018. The results of isolation are just the same, with more silence in the office and maybe with the slight difference that I could not meet friends now, even if I could spare the time.

For the DiverseNile project, preparing the AcrossBorders publications is hugely relevant. There are so many aspects we will be able to compare with sites in our new concession which are after all located in the ‘periphery’ of Sai Island. Tomb 26 is one of the Egyptian style pyramid tombs on Sai where the local elite was buried. We had more than 36 burials in this monument and we are now able to reconstruct in detail the life history of the tomb and its users. Although the burial assemblages like the one of Khnummose follow Egyptian standards, there are also certain local markers and individual concepts which I describe in the forthcoming book. We assume that none of the users of Tomb 26 was actually coming from Egypt, all of them are belonging to the local elite with indigenous roots. Interestingly, we also have some Nubian features, especially traceable by the choice of ceramics and bodily adornment.

The probably best example is a young female who was buried with an ivory bracelet in Tomb 26 (Fig. 1). This bracelet was badly damaged and broken, but its find position over the ulna of the individual allowed a clear interpretation. Similar bracelets are known from several New Kingdom sites in Nubia (e.g. Buhen, Mirgissa and Fadrus) and can be regarded as typical ‘Nubian’.

In situ position of ivory bracelet in Tomb 26 on Sai (photo: J. Budka).

Overall, Tomb 26 on Sai Island illustrates as a case study the potential of investigating the variability of funerary practices within a common repertoire of burial customs adopted from Egyptian standards as being rooted in distinct social practices. One of the main tasks for the near future within the framework of the DiverseNile project is, therefore, to determine the degree of diversity not only in elite contexts such as the pyramid cemetery on Sai but also in social groups not belonging to the elite of New Kingdom Nubia in order to achieve a more comprehensive picture of past communities in the Middle Nile region. Our cemeteries in the Attab to Ferka region will allow us to make here considerable progress in the next years, especially because of our joint approach using both funerary and settlement records to reconstruct past communities.

Colonisation Through Objects and the Shaping of Diversity in Nubia

I recently passed my PhD viva at Cambridge and thought it would be nice to provide an overview of the work I’ve been carrying out in the past 4 years, which informs a lot about my research for DiverseNile. Firstly, there are many people to whom I’d like to say thank you—they’re all named in my thesis—but here I will just mention a few key individuals in my journey from Cambridge to Munich: Kate Spence, Stuart Tyson Smith, Paul Lane and our PI Julia Budka.

My thesis is entitled ‘Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia (16th-11th Century BC)’. From the title, you might be asking what do I mean by ‘Late Colonial Nubia’? It’s not my intention to discuss this here, but in my thesis I argue that we should rethink the terminology we use to describe Nubia’s history from a bottom-up perspective. At this point in my discussion, ‘Late Colonial’ means ‘New Kingdom’ Nubia, although after discussing this with Stuart Smith I realized that there’s more nuance to add to my bottom-up discussion of chronology. I hope to be able to talk about this in more detail soon.

In the Late Colonial Period (or New Kingdom), a huge set of Egyptian-style objects flooded Nubia. This global objectscape appears at various sites from the 1st to the 4th cataract. In my thesis, I explore how colonization materialized differently across Nubia through the reception, adoption and transformation of Egyptian-style objects in local contexts. By examining the social role performed by foreign objects in local contexts in Nubia, my thesis firstly unveils the existence of various burials communities which adopted and combined foreign objects in different ways to fit social spaces’ rules and styles. This is given in the different distributions and combinations of the same types of standardising objects at various sites and social spheres, similarly to the way people around the globe later consumed industrialised tea sets, revealing alternative social structures either potentializing or limiting cultural practices created by the same global objectscape (e.g., cup + saucer versus beaker + saucer).

But what kind of social contexts did the same objectscape create in various local contexts? For example, at the same time foreign heart scarabs materialised colonisation, they could also create alternative social contexts within Nubia. Heart scarabs allowed individuals buried at elite sites, e.g. Aniba, Sai or Soleb, to display cultural affinities with Egypt and their power to consume restricted foreign objects, but at the non-elite cemetery of Fadrus, where a single heart scarab was found amongst c. 700 burials, these objects seem to have perform a different role reinforcing community and solidarity. In between extreme alternative social realities (elite versus non-elite), foreign objects were received and adopted in various ways, but also materially transformed or “copied” following local expectations and demands. In my thesis, I discuss more closely the roles performed by standardising scarabs/seals, jewellery, shabtis and heart scarabs in the shaping of alternative social realities within Nubia. This resulted in social complexity and cultural diversity in a context of colonial domination and attempted cultural homogenisation through objects.

Figure 1: in situ heart scarab from Tomb 26 at Sai. Courtesy AcrossBorders Project.

In other words, my thesis investigates how the same types of objects ended up shaping complexity and diversity in Late Colonial/New Kingdom Nubia, despite ancient colonisation and modern homogenising, colonial perspectives to the archaeology of Nubia. My PhD approach informs a great deal about my current research for DiverseNile, which focuses on the variability of mortuary sites and material culture within Nubia, where I have the opportunity to explore in detail a ‘peripheral’ context which becomes the ‘centre’ of alternative experiences of colonisation.

Further reading

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith.

Pitts, M. 2019. The Roman Object Revolution. Objectscapes and Intra-Cultural Connectivity in Northwest Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Versluys,  M.J. (2017). Object-scapes. Towards a Material Constitution of Romaness?. In Materialising Roman Histories, ed. A. van Oyen and M. Pitts. Oxford: Oxbow. 191-199.

Smith, S.T. 2021. The Nubian Experience of Egyptian Domination During the New Kingdom. In The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. G. Emberling and B.B. Williams. Oxford Handbooks Online

Anniversary of a new challenge

The time between Xmas and New Year is often a kind of transition, for many a moment to pause, but for others also a super stressful time in which all kinds of things have to be finished and loads of papers are sitting on one’s desk because one deliberately waited for this “break” between the holidays…

Well, I do not want to go into details, but my current work in home office is far from being relaxed. Nevertheless, it seems adequate to pause for a moment and remember what was achieved in the last few years.

Today one week ago, I gave the first DiverseNile Xmas lecture – this zoom lecture was meant as a kind of “Thank you” to all my friends, colleagues and collaborators who supported me in the last decades.

I tried to outline the most important waypoints leading to the new project in the region between Attab and Ferka, taking my visits and research in the cataract areas as case studies, starting of course with my participation in the Elephantine project.

From the First, to the Third, Fourth and Second Cataract.

Today two years ago, I was leaving Khartoum to go north and start work in my new concession between Attab and Ferka, the first field season of the MUAFS project started. Our very promising results of this first season served as the basis for the successful acquisition of the present ERC DiverseNile project – thus really a day to remember!

Preparing my lecture for last week, I reassessed my old documentation of rock inscriptions at Tombos, but especially of the Humboldt University Nubian Expedition at the Fourth Cataract as part of the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project. I will never forget the moment when we first entered our concession area in 2004 coming from the desert and looking on a barren, yet infinitely beautiful cataract landscape.

The three years of fieldwork in the area of Kirbekan were a great challenge, but this work has shaped me and taught me so much about archaeology and surveying. We had a great variety of funerary monuments and for me besides rock art the most interesting sites were tombs of the Napatan era and others associated with the Kerma culture. The discovery of Kerma remains/a local Kerma horizon was among the most impressive outcomes of the entire Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project! And fits perfectly to our current investigations in the Attab to Ferka region.

My visits to the Batn el-Hagar, the Kajbar cataract and of course Sai Island will never be forgotten. Sudan is such an impressive country with stunning landscapes and much more!

Without the years of the AcrossBorders project on Sai Island, my current research focus on remains from the Egyptian colonial era in the Attab to Ferka region with an emphasis on cultural diversity and the materialisation of cultural encounters would not be possible. Thus, many thanks again for all who supported me – there are exciting years ahead of us, stay tuned for new results from the MUAFS concession!

Finding solutions: The first magnetometry campaign in the Attab to Ferka region

Following up my last blog entry I would like to provide you an insight into the first archaeological prospection campaign almost two years ago, the work in the field and our challenges.

The first geophysical campaign in the Attab to Ferka region included magnetometry as well as magnetic susceptibility measurements. It took place during the first MUAFS season in December 2018/January 2019 and covered more than 6 ha at four different sites on the East bank of the Nile (GiE001 – GiE004).  Our grid system for magnetic measurements consists of 40 x 40 m squares, which were staked out using a right-angle prism, measuring tapes and ranging poles. The advantage of staking out by hand is that we could perfectly orientate our grid system regarding the site and its visible traces as well as the topography. Excepting some quartz outcrops, burial mounds, dense bushes and deep wadis, staking out and walking with the magnetometer was feasible.

For every grid corner we were using wooden sticks to fix our marked base lines for the measurements. For taking magnetic measurements we used the Foerster Ferex 4.032 Gradiometer (65 cm Gradient) in handheld Quadro-sensor configuration. The grids are measured in zig-zag mode every 2 m to reach a spatial coverage of 0,5 x 0,125 m. It is important not to use ferromagnetic pieces for the instrument, that’s why the frame is completely non-magnetic. Furthermore, the measuring person as well as the helping people around are not wearing magnetic clothes/accessories.

Magnetic measurements using 40 x 40 m grids and 2 m separated marked ropes for the zig-zag mode at GiE 002 in 2019 (Photo: Giulia D’Ercole).

Not only the measuring equipment and person have to be non-magnetic, there shouldn’t be magnetic disturbances in the surrounding area as well, for example streets, train, powerlines etc. Their noise is affecting the measurements and at its worst making them impossible or useless. Our investigated sites were suitable for magnetic measurements; solely the pillars of the powerline were disturbing the measurements in the direct surrounding of the pillars at our first site.

But there were other challenges: strong winds during our campaign made it quite difficult to stake out the grids properly. That’s why it took longer as usual and influenced also the communication as you couldn’t understand each other standing 40 m apart. Additionally, it was quite tricky to walk straight, with the same speed and with a constant distance between the probes and the ground (ideally 30 cm). It was not only more time consuming but also taking more strength to do the measurements in that windy, squally surrounding and also to avoid vibrations of the bag-pack and the magnetometer frame, which would affect the measurements.

A crucial part of fieldwork though is the exact positioning of the investigated areas! As magnetometry is a passive method, you can repeat the measurements as often as needed. Using precise positioning you can come back to specific spots you are interested in. For example, excavation trenches can be specified easily avoiding time consuming and expensive large area trenches. Furthermore, archaeological survey results can be combined, at best including dating of architectural features. Altogether it is feasible to follow special issues and questions regarding the micro and macro region of sites.

To georeference our magnetic data we took the coordinates of every wooden stick marking the corners of the grids. Therefore, we were using our dGPS (Differential Global Positioning System). As no official benchmarks are available in the Attab to Ferka region new fixpoints were set. The advantage is that we can use them not only for surveys but also for integrating the excavation trenches into our GIS-projects.

Unfortunately, several of our benchmarks set in 2018/2019 and embedded in concrete were missing when coming back to the region for the excavation campaign in early 2020. That’s why a quick solution had to be found to use the created measurement grid further on, where not only the benchmarks and survey points were integrated, but also the data collected during drone mapping and magnetic survey. A fictive grid was set up based on the remaining benchmarks to embed the new excavation trenches and their photogrammetry data.

Our challenge now is to merge both datasets to be able to compare the excavated features with all collected magnetic data as well as our high-resolution drone images. This allows to verify the magnetometry results and learn more for new measurements in future.

Where are you from? A „diverse“ material perspective on this common tricky question

Recently, I happened to have a conversation with a group of friends and colleagues who come from different parts of the world about the meaning and the various cultural and ontological implications of the question “Where are you from?”.

In seven years, that I have lived abroad, working in an international team, my way to approach and answer this question has perhaps changed as my point of view on the concepts of identity, nationality, and ethnicity which compound the complexity of us as humans.

Certainly, asking someone “Where are you from?” opens a multitude of different and equally acceptable answers. Most of us will reply indicating the place from where they were born providing to the interlocutor as many details on their specific provenance (state, region and even city) as they want to affirm and communicate their roots. Others will possibly prefer to answer with the place they currently live as this information might better fit with their actual perception of cultural identity.

Not by chance, these arguments are closely related to the work I am doing within our DiverseNile project and particularly, in my case, as specialist in provenance and technological studies on pottery, with the significance of materiality – and ceramic objects – for addressing questions on contact space biographies, cultural identity and encounters.

In our times, objects and goods mostly carry with them labels that inform us about the place of manufacture and from where their design come from (i.e., Designed in X, Made/Manufactured in X). These claims are regulated and controlled according to rules established by National and International commissions. Hence, the acronym COO stands for “Country of Origin” and represents the country or countries of manufacture, production, design, or brand origin where an article or product comes from ( A document called certificate of origin will then authenticate that the product sold or shipped was manufactured in a particular country (

In the past such labels did not exist. However, already in the late Predynastic period in Egypt (c. 3000 BCE) markings of vessels appeared as well as sealings on jar stoppers which refer to the provenance and owner of the contents (cf. e.g. Engel 2017). Markings of objects, especially amphorae, were more common in the Second Millennium BCE giving us information about the provenance and owners of the content as well as places of manufacture. However, most of the ceramic vessels intended for private use was not “registered”. Hence, the main task of ceramologists and archaeometrists consists in investigating on (and decoding) the place/s of origin and manufacture of ceramic objects, by means of the differentiation and classification of their characteristic stylistic, morphometric, technological, and compositional features.

Perhaps the concepts itself of provenance and origin of an object comprise several acceptations. First, there is the provenance/s of the raw materials (which in the case of ceramics includes both the clay raw materials and tempers), in the second instance, the place of manufacture, then the place (or places) of use of the object, and lastly that of discard (which might differ from that of use). To this list are added all the information concerning the “provenance” and “cultural identity” of the potter who produced the vessel and those regarding the people who used and discarded that object.  

Overall, the notion or idea of “identity” includes many areas that are still unexplored or that would otherwise require a thorough discussion. For many years, both in the field of archaeology and cultural anthropology, static and crystallized visions of identity have unfortunately dominated. Identities were often perceived as if they are closed monothetic entities or categories without reciprocal and fluid relations with the others. Recently, we have witnessed attempts to lighten such positions, through what could be defined as a deconstruction of the ontology of identity. Remarkably interesting, in this respect, is an essay by the cultural anthropologist Remotti (2010). He believes that the concept itself of “identity” can be dangerous as it might represent a kind of (artificial) opposition between “us” and the “others”.

The case study of Sai Island (as well as other central Egyptian towns in Nubia) (see e.g. Budka 2018; Carrano et al. 2009; D’Ercole and Sterba 2018; Ruffieux 2014; Spataro et al. 2015) has shown the interesting coexistence in the archaeological record of Egyptian-style objects produced with Nubian raw materials (we would now say Designed according to the Egyptian-style and Made in Nubia), objects produced entirely according to the Nubian style in Nubian raw materials (Designed and Made in Nubia), imported Egyptian objects (Designed and Made in Egypt) and also hybrid products (Designed in a mixture of Egyptian and Nubian style and Made in Nubia). So-called hybrid pottery types are however difficult to separate from the first category of Egyptian-style objects.

“Hybrid” Dinnerware Collection of modern design showing the attempt to combine and merge Eastern and Western cultures in a single plate.

The autoptic stylistic and morphological classification of pottery together with the chemical and technological laboratory analyses carried out on selected samples are fundamental tools to access this information. However, while the compositional data relating to the origin of the clay raw materials is in all respect’s objective and quantifiable (values ​​and proportions of specific diagnostic major, minor and trace chemical elements), the visual stylistic and technological information are more ephemeral and critical to access.

O. Gosselain (2000: 193) stated that “Decoration belongs to a category of manufacturing stages that are both particularly visible and technically malleable, and likely to reflect wider and more superficial categories of social boundaries. Fashioning, on the other hand, constitutes a very stable element of pottery traditions and is expected to reflect the most rooted and enduring aspects of a potter’s identity”. Hence, decoration, more than technological behaviours and manufacturing choices, is a fairly permeable category, susceptible to change and innovation (Gosselain 2010). This is well traceable in the decoration of Egyptian ceramics which partly adopted Nubian ways of decoration. Differently, a change and contamination in the technological and manufacturing stages of pottery (e.g., surface treatment, forming/fashioning) often indicates a stronger and deeper level of cultural communication and social transmission. In this respect, the so-called hybrid Egyptian-Nubian products from Sai and elsewhere perfectly embrace the extraordinary complex and intertwined dynamics of cultural encounter between Nubians and Egyptians in New Kingdom Nubia.

The main purpose of my work task within the DiverseNile project is the understanding of these dynamics through a scientific and objective analysis of the various identity codes and “provenance attributes” of the ceramic objects found in the area between Attab to Ferka, and their comparison with the pottery corpus of the central sites like Sai. Also, it is possible that the categories themselves of “provenance”, “identity” and “cultural belonging” will be re-calibrated and newly shaped according to a new and more fluid vision of the materiality of the human culture. Possibly, when asked “Where you come from?”, objects will then surprise us with a new range of answers.


Budka, J. 2018. Pots & People. Ceramics from Sai Island and Elephantine, 147–170, in: J. Budka and J. Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm. Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Leiden.

Carrano, J.L., Girty, G.H. and Carrano, C.J. 2009. Re-examining the Egyptian colonial encounter in Nubia through a compositional, mineralogical, and textural comparison of ceramics. Journal of Archaeo­logical Science 36, 785–797.

D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, Johannes H. 2018. From Macro Wares to Micro Fabrics and INAA Compositional Groups: The pottery corpus of the New Kingdom town on Sai Island (Northern Sudan), 171–184, in: J. Budka and J. Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm. Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Leiden.

Engel, E.-M. 2017. Umm el-Qaab VI: Das Grab des Qa’a, Architektur und Inventar. Mit einem Beitrag von Thomas Hikade. Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 100. Wiesbaden, Harrassowit.

Gosselain, O. 2000. Materializing identities: an African perspective. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 7, 187–216.

Gosselain, O. 2010. Exploring the dynamics of African pottery cultures, 193–226, in: R. Barndon, A. Engevik and I. Øye (eds.), The Archaeology of Regional Technologies: Case Studies from the Palaeolithic to the Age of the Vikings. Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter.

Remotti, F. 2010. L’ossessione identitaria. Laterza, Rome.

Ruffieux, P. 2014. Early 18th Dynasty Pottery Found in Kerma (Dokki Gel), 417–429, in: J.R. Anderson and D.A. Welsby (eds.), The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies, British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1, Leuven.

Spataro, M., Millet, M. and Spencer, N. 2015. The New Kingdom settlement of Amara West (Nubia, Sudan): mineralogical and chemical investigation of the ceramics. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 7.4, 399–421.

On the footsteps of Vila and the archaeology of monumental surveys in northern Sudan

Every archaeologist knows that what we write about the past is mediated by present-day questions, expectations and challenges, but also state-of-the-art documentation techniques. Archaeologists don’t simply reconstruct what happened back in the day. Instead, archaeological and historical narratives are essentially modern constructions that can either be repaired or demolished as scholarship moves forward. Archaeological research is also mediated by complex site and object biographies that span thousands of years; e.g., in our case, from the Neolithic to monumental surveys carried out in northern Sudan in the mid-20th century.

To understand tombs, burials and mortuary objects in the region from Attab to Ferka we need to understand the impact of André Vila’s work in the region, the epistemological framework from which he was reporting and his methodology. How Vila’s work materialise in the landscape directly affect the questions we ask and the methodologies we apply today. Not surprisingly, archaeologists in Sudan usually deal with traces left by earlier archaeologists at various sites, and retracing their steps becomes a fundamental aspect of accessing the past through remaining material culture (e.g., Howley 2018: 86-87).

Vila’s survey can be seen as part of a long tradition of large-scale surveys going back to the first Archaeological Survey of Nubia (see Adams 2007). From Dal (the southern limit of Lake Nubia) to Nilwatti Island, Vila identified 462 sites of which 219 sites are within the MUAFS concession (figure 1). These sites were attributed to cultural units, e.g., Kerma, Christian etc. Even though Vila noted that various sites belonged to one or more cultural units, today archaeologists approach those ‘units’ more fluidly, especially in situations of cultural exchanges, which is especially true for Kerma and New Kingdom sites. On the one hand, revisiting sites surveyed and reported in the 1960s and ’70s requires us to contextualise archaeology to ‘deconstruct’ theoretical biases and ask different questions. On the other hand, Vila’s methodology determines the extent to which sites can be explored.

Figure 1: distribution of sites in the MUAFS/DiverseNile concession area (map: C. Geiger)

In terms of method, Vila’s survey aimed to keep disturbance to sites to a minimum. Test excavations and sampling followed rigid guidelines and excavations were only carried out when cultural affiliations couldn’t be distinguished otherwise, e.g., based on surface finds. Cemeteries were approached in a slightly different way. Cemeteries were usually cleared to determine their extent and number of graves at each site. A few graves were fully excavated and recorded, as well as ‘peculiar’ collective burials (figure 2).

Figure 2: Bagagin Farki, Ginis East. “Egyptian” New Kingdom pit burial containing an individual deposited in extended position together with sherds from two pots and the remains of other six individuals (Vila 1977, Vol. 5: 47)

In Work Package 2, I am responsible, among other things, for reassessing the material from such graves. For example, comparison of items from graves in our concession area with objects from other sites allows us to shed new light onto different roles performed by the same types of objects in different contexts (Lemos 2020). Scientific analysis of pottery also allows us to explore the (potentially) alternative role of objects in rituals (stay tune to Giulia D’Ercole’s blog!). I am currently collaborating with Kate Fulcher from the British Museum on the topic of mortuary rituals in New Kingdom Nubia based on scientific analysis of artefacts (see Fulcher and Budka 2020 for examples of such approaches).

Working with previously excavated material culture poses several theoretical and methodological challenges, mostly related to the lack of information provided by earlier excavation reports and the problematical categories used to classify things. However, revisiting the burials excavated by Vila holds an immense potential for us to ask different questions within larger-scale perspectives on burial communities, the role of (foreign) objects in the constitution of (local) social relations and identity formation strategies. Comparative approaches to sites and material culture allow us to understand different social realities within Nubia, challenging previous homogenising perspectives on cultural interactions focusing on elite centres. Revisiting sites also holds great potential to unveil things under new theoretical perspectives and using state-of-the-art documentation techniques. This is especially the case because disturbance to sites was limited during Vila’s survey, although looting poses an additional challenge to new fieldwork in our concession area.

Ultimately, researching burials and other sites in our concession area and excavating sites firstly worked by Vila presupposes a deep knowledge of the data sets produced by him, what was ignored/discarded, what was considered worth investigating etc. Previous ways of excavating, identifying and reporting sites also determine the extent to which we can revisit them through excavation and comparative analysis.


Adams, W. Y. 2007. A Century of Archaeological Salvage, 1907-2007. Sudan and & Nubia 11: 48-56.

Fulcher, K. and J. Budka. 2020. Pigments, incense, and bitumen from the New Kingdom town and cemetery on SaiIsland in Nubia. Journal of Archaeological Science

Howley, K. 2018. Return to Taharqo’s Temple at Sanam: the inaugural field season of the Sanam Temple Project. Sudan & Nubia 22: 81-88.

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith.

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Sudanaise). Fascicule 5: Le district de Ginis, Est et Ouest. Paris: CNRS.